Timothy Ward wisely states that “We Christians have taken the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” and made it “Solo Scriptura”. None of the reformers would have EVER commended Christians reading the Bible on their own without the aid of others.” Personally, I see this at work all the time. Often times I hear Christians saying things like: “Why can’t we just read the Bible; why do we need people to give their opinions?” or, “What about sola scriptura – isn’t scripture sufficient to train me in godliness? Isn’t it Catholic to believe that we need others to interpret the Bible?” Yes, the Bible is sufficient – but YOU AREN’T! You absolutely need other people to interpret the Bible alongside you, and here’s why:
1. Because you have a sinful bias. While it’s true that scripture is living, active, and sufficient, it’s not true that we come to the Bible without biases. Scripture itself tells us that we are sinful; that the very first sin man ever committed was to twist the word of God to say what we wanted it to say. You’re lying to yourself if you believe your reading of the Bible is totally pure; the Bible itself says otherwise. You need other people to show you what you’re intentionally leaving out as you read the word of God. This is why the NT rarely if ever speaks of “personal devotions” or anything of the sort – the word of God is meant to be dispersed in community.
2. Because you have a cultural bias. Every culture has a bias. Our American culture tends to twist the Bible’s words into encouraging, pithy thoughts regarding our personal ambition. I guarantee you’ve done it in the last few months, even unaware. Our culture, like every culture, operates out of a grand narrative, and we unwittingly impose that narrative into the narrative of scripture without the help of others. In this regard, it is absolutely essential that every Christian be in communications with the history of the church and the church around the world.
3. Because you need the whole body of Christ. One person is able to teach, another to encourage, another to create beautiful music about God’s word. You do not have all the gifts of Jesus Christ. You might have the gift of knowledge, and acquire lots of ideas while reading the Bible; but without taking that same word to someone with the gift of exhortation, you’ll never be convicted. The same is true the other way around. We are not autonomous people any longer now that we’re part of Christ’s body. Paul Tripp compares Christians to people who see themselves in carnival mirrors. Unlike the rest of the world, the lights are on – we believe God’s word. But we still distort our own image because of our sinful bias, and so we need others to apply the word into our lives for us.
4. Because you’re commanded to be under the teaching of the elders. If you’re not an elder at a church, the fact is, you haven’t been entrusted with the word of God. The Bible commands that some men be entrusted with teaching God’s word, and if you’re not one of them, you’re commanded to listen to their interpretation and weigh it with God’s word. Look to the word of God itself, and it will point you your elders. You might object that with the wealth of material out there, we can choose our own teachers, but that’s not quite true. The role of an elder is not just to teach, but to have authority to exercise church discipline and confront you about sin. An author who lives 2,000 miles away can’t do that. They don’t know you.